Medical Waste Industry Insights

How Can Medical Waste Be Reduced? 5 Money-Saving Tips For Your Facility

By David Ryan

Did you know the cost to dispose of medical waste can be 10 times greater than the cost to dispose of regular (non-regulated) solid waste? Studies suggest that businesses and facilities can realistically decrease regulated medical waste to just 6-10% of their total waste. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) goes even further, suggesting that only 3-5% of all medical waste truly needs to be disposed of as regulated medical waste.

Five ways to reduce medical waste in your workplace:

1. Understand OSHA's broadly accepted standard of "regulated medical waste."

OSHA defines Regulated Waste  as liquid or semi-liquid blood or other potentially infectious materials; contaminated items that would release blood or other potentially infectious materials in a liquid or semi-liquid state if compressed; items that are caked with dried blood or other potentially infectious materials and are capable of releasing these materials during handling; contaminated sharps; and pathological and microbiological wastes containing blood or other potentially infectious materials. 

2. Limit access to red bags.

Keep red bags out of patients’ rooms and visiting areas.  Patients and visitors do not see any harm in tossing papers, food containers or empty soda cans into regulated medical waste containers in the room, even when warning signs are clearly posted. Avoid the problem by limiting access to red bags to authorized personnel who are trained on the difference between what is true medical waste and what can be disposed of elsewhere.

3. Use small medical waste containers in patient rooms 

If it isn’t possible to remove the red bags completely, use small medical waste containers in patient rooms. Large containers make it too easy for patients (and staff) to use them as regular trash bins.  If you do put (small) red bags in patients’ rooms, locate them away from, not next to, the regular trash can.  And of course, make sure medical waste bins are properly marked.

4.    Train your staff.  

There are many misconceptions and misunderstandings about what can be classified as ordinary solid waste.  Staff members may take the “better to be safe than sorry” approach and dispose of anything they’re not sure about as medical waste. Make sure your facility’s waste management policies and practices are well defined and clearly communicated.  Encourage an attitude of “if you’re not sure, ask”, instead of “if you’re not sure, put it in a red bag”.

You may be surprised at the impact training can make.  Ask your medical waste provider to hold a training session for your staff members.  Review what can be treated as regular solid waste, what can be recycled, and what is truly medical waste.  Think of training as an ongoing requirement – new staffers need to be trained, and experienced personnel need reminders and updates, this training can accompany other annual training requirements such as OSHA Blood Borne Pathogen Training as a supplement.

5. Recycle when possible.

More things in a medical facility are recyclable than staff may realize.  For example, plastic items, such as IV bags, can be melted down, which sterilizes the plastic and makes it reusable. Of course, it is important to balance patient safety and costs along with the environmental impact.

Some recycling facilities may resist accepting things they consider to be medical waste, even if the items are not regulated, so you may need to do some research about what recycling facilities in your area will accept. (You can also check with your medical waste provider for guidance.) Still, there are a number of ways to reduce medical waste through recycling.  A good idea is to choose one or two things to start with, and train your staff to put those things into a recycling bin. You might even have a contest to reward the staff if certain recycling and waste reduction goals are met.

Recycling not only reduces costs by reducing the amount of medical waste your facility generates, it’s better for the environment, an issue that is increasingly important to many groups, including patients, business partners and, in the case of for-profit hospitals, investors.

Reducing medical waste can have a real impact on the cost of managing waste disposal at your facility -- so get started today with these five actionable tips can make a big difference!


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